Don’t Miss the Warning Signs of a Hemorrhagic Stroke

Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke, and every 3.5 minutes someone dies of a stroke, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While an ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke occurring due to a blood clot, hemorrhagic strokes account for around 10% to 20% of all strokes.

What is a hemorrhagic stroke?

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain leading to an accumulation of blood and damage to the brain tissue. The main two types of brain bleeds are intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), which happens when bleeding occurs inside the brain tissue, and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which occurs when bleeding accumulates in the space surrounding the brain called the subarachnoid space.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of a brain bleed can vary from headache, nausea and vomiting to focal symptoms like weakness, loss of sensation or loss of vision. More generalized symptoms include a loss of language, change in mental status or even a coma. These symptoms will usually develop quickly within minutes.

Some people might complain of a terrible headache or migraine that alerts them to something being wrong. When a brain bleed occurs and blood comes into contact with brain tissue or the surrounding tissue, it irritates these layers leading to a headache. This headache is usually severe, involves the entire head and is accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sometimes a change in mental status.

Timing is Key

Early recognition and diagnosis of a brain bleed can help minimize the effect and severity of this devastating condition and can save lives. The BE FAST acronym also applies to hemorrhagic stroke and can be used to recognize stroke and brain bleed symptoms early on, alerting patients to head to the emergency room and receive time-sensitive treatment.

  • Balance difficulties and dizziness.
  • Eyesight changes (blurry or double vision).
  • Face drooping or numbness (the smile may look uneven).
  • Arm weakness (when a person lifts both arms at once, one of them may drift downward).
  • Speech difficulty or trouble repeating a sentence.
  • Time to call 911. Call 911 immediately and make note of when the symptoms first appeared.

Reducing Your Risk

People with uncontrolled blood pressure are at the highest risk for brain bleeds. Accumulation of multiple risk factors, including tobacco use, high cholesterol and diabetes, increases the risk of a brain bleed. Other risk factors include taking blood thinners known as anticoagulants, use of illicit drugs, family history of brain aneurysms or abnormal blood vessels in the brain known as arteriovenous malformation.

The most important treatment for brain bleeds and other types of stroke is prevention. Controlling risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking cessation, and following a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise are the best tools to protect against developing a brain bleed that can be life-threatening.